Cameron Bond as Gaston and members of the cast of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Cameron Bond as Gaston and members of the cast of Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

One suspects that whether you were to see a production of Disney’s Beauty and The Beast in Vancouver, Manila or even a Disney cruise ship, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish between them. Sure the actors may be different, but the guts of the show seem so over-prescribed at times that it becomes so homogeneous, seeming to suck the life from this family-friendly musical.

[pullquote]While small in stature, Ryan Everett Wood brings a wonderful singing voice to the role of Beast and you have to admire a guy that looked to his inner petulant child for inspiration, one of the few surprises in an otherwise formulaic show.[/pullquote]The current touring production that has landed at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre  is no different. Despite the hype around the original creative team behind the 1994 Broadway hit having a hand in this latest incarnation, there is little changed from the last time it played in Vancouver almost exactly three years to the day.  It could be argued that that Disney formula helps ensure a consistent product, but we’re talking live theatre here, not creating a t-shirt for sale at a Disney theme park. The result is a show that has all of the necessary elements, but lacks that certain spark of spontaneity that makes live theatre so darn compelling and exciting.

That isn’t to say there aren’t things to like about this new/old version that currently has Vancouver families forking out top dollar (prices for decent seats start around $90), but it takes almost an entire act for the show to gain any steam and the audience on opening night felt it.

With everything feeling a little flat on stage through much of the first half, there was little in the way of interaction from all the little princesses (and princes) in the audience. At times you could hear a pin drop where there should be giggles and reactions from the younger set.  It was evident that after intermission the audience was looking for something more though, as act two got off to a great start with many in the audience clapping along during the orchestra’s entra’acte. It was almost as if by sheer will of the audience that buoyed this cast through act two.

Ryan Everett Wood and Jillian Butterfield in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Ryan Everett Wood and Jillian Butterfield in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Cameron Bond makes the most out of the buffoonish Gaston, assisted by Jake Bridges who plays his sidekick Lefou. And even as Bridges pratfalls and antics are as much a part of that Disney formula as the role of Gaston, he and Bond did get many of the laughs for their efforts.

While small in stature, Ryan Everett Wood brings a wonderful singing voice to the role of Beast and you have to admire a guy that looked to his inner petulant child for inspiration, one of the few surprises in an otherwise formulaic show. Jillian Butterfield brings us a solid Belle, but like much of the show, it felt at times like she was simply getting from Point A to Point B and was missing the heart that should ultimately connect her and the Beast.

As for the magic we’ve come to expect from these Disney mega-musicals, it’s hard not to appreciate Chip in a cart that appears almost see-through, a set design that seems to be in perpetual movement, and top hats plucked directly from the set in the show-stopper “Be Our Guest”.  But for all its colourfully visual tricks and treats, there should beat a heart as exciting as the Beast’s transformation at the end of the show. That heart took a whole act to really start pumping.

Having been around now for over twenty years since it first appeared on Broadway, perhaps it is time for Disney Theatrical Productions to take a cue from their DVD division and lock this one away in the Mouse’s vault for a few years. It will not only help build anticipation for its next release, but it might even help breathe some new life into this show’s formula.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast directed by Rob Roth with choreography by Matt West. Music by Alan Menken. Lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice. Book by Linda Woolverton. On stage at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (649 Cambie St, Vancouver) until February 8. Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.ca or visit http://vancouver.broadway.com for more information.